The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020

In what was described by some people as ‘an affront to a once-great institution’ and others as ‘that’s nice dear’, I was a finalist in this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP).
Before you become too invested in this, I will warn you that I did not win. But it was still an amazing experience that I would love to share with you.

The lead up

A lifetime of New Year’s Eves has taught me not build events up too much. If you go in with minimal investment, and even less expectation, at worst you will get exactly what you anticipated. But I was really excited about this! I had no delusions of winning, but just getting the chance to see one of my photos in the National Portrait Gallery and getting to swan around with actual, bona fide photographers, seemed like a pretty good way to spend a night.
So Katie and I hatched a plan. I would take three days off work, and we would do a family road-trip up to Canberra. We could stop at Illabo on the way and stay with some friends there, and I could use the time to get some great photos along the way. A road-trip so often throws up photo opportunities that haste to get your destination, or a back-seat full of surly children, ensure never become actual photos. So I was really excited about having an excuse to make photography a feature of the trip…after all, it was photography that made the whole trip possible!
Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to be taking such amazing photos, I really should see if Fuji would be willing to lend me a GFX for the trip in exchange for some photos and social content. I could shoot with a camera that I could never afford, and they would get some free publicity!
Everyone wins!
This was going to be great!
A family road-trip, an epic camera I had always wanted to try shooting with, and a night where I get to extort information out of some amazing photographers!


But then of course, the Gods looked down and said ‘Chris looks so happy! Look at his contented face…and look at how he has dreams and aspirations! Let’s throw a veritable shit-storm at him!’
And so we found out that Holly had her School Photos on the Friday of the event (these would be her photos from her first year of High School and so she really wanted to be there), then Xavier had an excursion for school on the Thursday and Josh had a basketball semi-final on the Saturday and his first night of Air Cadets on the Friday night, and Katie got work on the Wednesday and a gig on the Sunday arvo, and Holly got invited to a horse-riding birthday party on the Sunday, and Holly’s brass band got a slot at the Preston Market, and Fuji explained that they didn’t have a GFX I could borrow…and, well…I started to feel that perhaps this was not going to be the epic experience I had hoped for.


So, to cut a long story marginally less long, I ended up driving to Canberra with Xavier on the Thursday, Katie and Holly flew up on the Friday to arrive just in time for the big event at the Portrait Gallery, and Josh stayed home. We would stay with my sister and niece at their place, and my Mum and Dad would travel up and stay in a nearby hotel.

The big event

So having spent all of Thursday driving, and listening to an audiobook that told the story of what happened on Tattooine between the time Obi Wan Kenobe landed there with a baby Luke Skywalker, and when Luke came and found him as an adult (I shit you not…this is what I listened to). It’s fair to say that my excitement for the event on Friday night had been tempered a tad. But all of this was turned around on Friday morning when the National Portrait Gallery called my mobile!
Now I have been involved in enough events to know that the winner is usually given a bit of heads up so that they can plan a speech, or at the very least, ensure they will be wearing pants at the award ceremony. And here was the Portrait Gallery calling me on the morning of the event! This could mean only one thing…I had won the National Photographic Portrait Prize!!! $50K worth of prizes and a lifetime of bragging rights! This was amazing! This was UNBELIEVABLE!!!!
Indeed it was unbelievable, because the first thing Sheridan from the Gallery told me was that the reason that she was calling me was because the event that night had been cancelled because of the Corona Virus.

So that was cool.

On the bright side, I now had all of the time I would have spent writing a speech and putting on pants, to go and take some photos around Canberra. Plus there was still going to be an event where all the photographers got to see their artwork in the gallery, and where the National Portrait Gallery would announce the winner…and they had organised for the artists to have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel where a lot of people were staying. So while there wasn’t going to be a big event and an after party, there was still going to be an event with the finalists, and a free dinner with a guest of my choice!

Take that Gods!

Channeling my inner Alex Ellinghausen
About 2 seconds after I took this shot a flock of birds flew right above me and would have made this shot epic!!
Rollerblading in the echo chamber

The event itself was pretty awesome. We all were given a lanyard that had our photo on it which was great as it made it easier for me to stalk those photographers whose work I really liked.

The only lanyard I’ve ever been happy to wear!
Tough crowd…and no I didn’t realise how much smaller my photo would be than everyone else’s!!
For posterity, me in front of my own photo at the National Portrait Gallery

If nothing else, walking around looking at all of the other photos made me realise just how tough it is to be a judge in a competition like this. There were so many amazing photos, so many brilliant stories and so many totally different approaches. But if there was a correct decision…then I think that the judges made it. All three winners (the overall winner, the highly commended and the ‘Packer’s prize’) were all outstanding, and you can see them here

Holly and Pebbles

A huge note of thanks to the judges and the National Portrait Gallery for selecting me as a finalist, and to the NPPP staff who did such an amazing job of still making the event a night to remember, in spite of everything else. And to the staff at the Midnight Hotel who were able to provide meals for all of us at remarkably short notice.
A big thank-you to my sister and niece for putting us up in Canberra, to my parents for travelling all the way up to Canberra, to Katie for pulling out all the stops to get from Melbourne to the gallery in time to see the portrait, to Xavier for being such a great road-trip companion, and last but by no means least, the biggest thanks to Holly (and to a lesser extent Pebbles) for giving me such an amazing portrait!

And of course if you want to vote for the portrait in the ‘People’s Choice’ category…you are more than welcome to here

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